Doomed Page Views
The page view, and its dependent sibling the ad view, has been with the online ad industry since the beginning. It has been at the core of our online media measurement. Ask publishers how big their sites are, and they will certainly tell you how many page views they get each month. Since most publisher ads are sold or accounted for on a cost-per thousand (CPM) basis, the number of pages and resulting ad impressions are what drives their ad revenue. Unique audience conveys the potential reach of a site, but page views drive the revenue numbers.
RSS, or really simple syndication, has been around for the better part of ten years. As its name implies, it is a simple method for publishers to syndicate their content for direct, on-demand, access by subscribers. Publishers put their news or information into a feed, and consumers "subscribe" to the feeds, consuming them whenever they want.
RSS has come into its own over the past two years as bloggers and their readers have adopted the technology as a preferred form of distribution. Many of the most popular blogs deliver as many "feeds" as they do page views. In other words, counting their page views only represents one-half of the media that is consumed. The same goes for their ads. They are being consumed "offsite" as well.
Essentially, consumers are creating their own "page views" on their own time and own terms, and largely out of control of the publishers that provide the content. Thus, for consumers using RSS, the notion of page view is now all about what they have chosen to "pull," generally from many different publishers at once. It is no longer about what one particular publisher "pushed."
While this may seem like a rather esoteric discussion to many in the online media industry, I believe that it is fundamental. I believe that what we are seeing with RSS (or a similar, easier-to-implement syndication technology that might be more quickly adapted than RSS has been) will fundamentally shape the entire digital media experience and will happen sooner that most people would think.
As consumers more and more define a portion of their media consumption by what they subscribe to, not just what they browse to, the notion of a publisher-defined page view will become less and less relevant.
Of course, RSS won't be the only culprit when the page view goes away. The increasing importance of online video is having the same effect. How do you compare a 10-minute video engagement to the consumption of ten one-minute pages? If you were counting by page views, how would you count the video? Is it one "page" view? Does it represent just one-tenth the measurement value of the 10 browser pages?
How about the introduction of other new Web 2.0 technologies like AJAX, where publishers can create virtual client-server architectures and "stream" or update dynamic content from multiple sources onto users' pages, without the users calling for new pages? This really explodes the historical notion of the page view as a way to measure how many pages or how much content was consumed.
How fast will this happen? Given the pace of the adoption of these new technologies, as well as the rapid ramp-up of broadband, which acts as an accelerator, I think that the page view as we know it will become meaningless in two years.
What will this all mean? The demise of the page view means that we will need to focus on other measurements to determine the quantity of content that online media audiences consume. It will focus everyone in our business much more on audience, with the notion of unique audience becoming more important. Engagement--how deeply consumers interact with particular content and with particular ads--will become much more important. The actual results of the ads, whether it be generating leads or sales or requests for information, will become more important.
This will mean changes for the ad serving and ad measurement systems. They will have to anticipate operations and metrics that are much more audience-centric. Life will be much less about how many and much more about who? It will no longer be about the page and entirely about the people. We will probably see the traditional ad-serving companies being displaced by new RSS technology providers like Feedburner, which does for the RSS world what ad-serving companies do for Web pages.
We are at the beginning of a media future where new, consumer-driven technology and metrics will rule. Lots will change. Whether or not you believe that the page view's death is imminent, it is almost impossible to argue with the fact that in the future, it will be a lot less relevant. Start planning now. Waiting too long may be too late.